How do you weigh a Larry Walker, who is on the downside of his career against a younger player who has proven less, but may have as much or more ultimate potential, like a Jason Marquis was a couple of years ago?
I think any time you look at a player evaluation, I try to look at it simply in terms of which direction a player is going in his career right now. Is he this way (pointing up), this way (pointing down) or is he neutral? So, when you bring up the example of a Jason Marquis, when that deal was made, the deal was made with the hope that he was going this way (up) in his career.
With Larry Walker, obviously, he is on the downside of his career. But, with that said, he still has the ability to perform as he has in recent years (holds his hand flat). But, there are players who tend to tail off. The key to any deal is to ensure you are not overpaying for something that is declining. As the value is declining on the talent, so should the dollars you are paying correspond.
What about other aspects of a potential player – their personality or their reputation, inside and outside of the game? How are they evaluated?
You spend a lot of time reading about the player – what people are saying about the player - because most of these guys show up in articles. There is also word of mouth. You may hear some things from our own players about these guys at times. But, you never know until you get them. I have seen more times than not, you see something negative about a player and then you bring them in and they are wonderful.
Tavarez is a classic case. So, I guess it is a little bit of an unknown and you hope it does not become a deterrent.
How about the physical health of a potential acquisition? How do you gauge that?
In this business, it is buyer beware. But, with that said, there has to be some disclosure and any deal can pend a physical. If a team knowingly says that something could happen and you put that pending a physical, then the chances of them letting you know that there is at least the possibility of a discovery here…
So, you can use that threat of a physical to flush out any potential problems ahead of time?
Yes. Health history is clearly a major issue in any deal you do.
Have you ever had a deal that you had to cancel or adjust based on this?
A trade doesn't jump out at me, but in the free agent market, we have. We've had players fail (physicals).
Will you explain a bit about how contracts are categorized? Terms like cash value, book value and the like are not well-understood.
A lot of times in baseball, you hear a term called AAV. That is the annual average value of a contract. That is simply, take the number of years to the gross (amount) of the contract and divide and that becomes your annual value.
Does that include incentives?
No. That is a base line. And then, book value versus present value… those two distinctions are deferred dollars or moneys or benefits a player may receive that are pushed out (into future years). Obviously, the value the dollar drops (over time). Subsequently, a player may request interest, so the book value doesn't change. But, there are some deals that are constructed that allow you to PV (present value) a contract out.
Most places you read as far as contract numbers go are either the AAV or the actual book value. Very rarely do you see published present value content. But, in reality, it really doesn't matter because there is not enough of them to really change the nature of the payroll in any given year.
It seems like the Cardinals have used backloaded contracts and deferred money in recent years to deal with a mid-market payroll. With the increased revenues in conjunction with the new ballpark, will that approach change?
Our contract strategy has remained fairly consistent. I think in the end, that will really come down to what ownership wants to do on those type of deals. In the history of when I have been with the Cardinals, it is what we have practiced. At this point, I have heard nothing that would change that.
Is there anything you can share regarding the size of future budgets beyond ownership's statement that it will be in the $90 millions with the new park?
I really can't comment on that.
You mentioned that you monitor other team's budget situations, as well as your own?
Yes, we spend a lot of time just looking at the market. It is always a benefit to us to know what other teams might be looking for and where they stand financially. And when I say financially, I am talking about more broad terms in where they are with their payroll and whether they might be trying to add or subtract. It just gives you a better picture of what is going on.
Are there more or fewer players available on the waiver wire this August compared to prior year?
I can't comment about waivers. Let's leave it at that.
During this time of year, when so many players are placed on waivers, an understanding of contractual situations is crucial, isn't it?
Surely you don't want a Myers situation. (In 1998, reliever Randy Myers was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres, not because they wanted him, but to block a divisional rival from taking him. They ended up eating $13.5 million dollars from a bad contract as a result.)
Thank you for your time.
You are welcome.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.